Sonnets and other Poems; with a Versification of the Six Bards of Ossian. By S. Egerton Brydges

Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges

The sonnets of Samuel Egerton Brydges, composed when the author was a student at Cambridge and the Inns of Court, are replete with the themes, images, and diction of eighteenth-century Spenserianism. The most immediate objects of imitation are Thomas Warton's sonnets (1777) and John Bampfylde's Sixteen Sonnets (1779) — there are sixteen sonnets in Brydges's second edition — though odes by Collins and the Wartons are also quarried. As mid-century Spenserian poets began their careers by composing sets of odes in place of the conventional pastorals, late-century poets (Bampfylde, Russell, Brydges, Smith, Bowles) were substituting collections of sonnets in place of the odes published by the last generation. The shift from pastoral to ode to sonnet tracks with the elevation of subjectivity in romantic verse.

The Spenserian element in Brydges's sonnets consists of references to "fairy ground" and the like, some incipient allegory, and the introduction of occasional alexandrines. "Comus, and his noisy choir" in Sonnet VII are students at Cambridge. Sonnet IX, "To Evening," reworks the ode of the same title by William Collins ("Bard sublime of Arun's stream"); Sonnet XVI imitates Milton's seventh, "How soon hath Time." The "Echo and Silence" sonnet was the only poem by Brydges to achieve something like canonical status; Brydges's sonnets were otherwise eclipsed by those of Charlotte Smith and William Lisle Bowles.

Critical Review: "These poems, like most other miscellanies, have different degrees of merit; or rather, some have no merit at all. How jejune and puerile is the idea pursued in the first Sonnet? ... Here we might likewise ask how a 'neglected lyre' can be 'courted,' or how the author can suppose poetical abilities, (that we apprehend is the meaning, not the instrument itself) will entitle a man to heaven? ... The author does not appear devoid of poetical talents: is imagination is often brilliant, and his expressions sometimes happy; but he is defective in judgment, and frequently obscure" 59 (May 1785) 392-93.

English Review: "Whether our language have not sufficient pliability for the structure of the sonnet we shall not pretend to determine, but there is a stiffness in these, as well as in almost all the other English sonnets we have seen, which proves at least the difficulty of this species of composition" 5 (May 1785) 390.

The Cabinet: "Samuel Egerton Brydges is one of the numerous writers of the present day who are possessed of elegance and feeling, rather than originality of genius. But his feeling too often borders upon unnatural conceit, and his elegance is sometimes mingled with harshness, and sometimes with unmeaning weakness. If we may judge from the biographical accounts of which he is the subject, he seems to be a man, whose refined sensibility has led him to fancy much greater miseries than he has ever experienced: — but the happiness of another is a point upon which no man can speak with decision. The first of the two sonnets I now copy is undoubtedly his best ["On Echo and Silence"]; it is original, and shews a considerable degree of poetic fancy" "On the Sonnets of Southey and Brydges" 3 (May 1808) 307.

Capel Lofft reprints "Echo and Silence" in Laura (1814) with the comment "What a subject for allegoric Painting with the most interesting Landscape Scenery!" No DXXIX note. It was anonymously reprinted in Universal Magazine 76 (March 1785) 157.

William Wordsworth to Alexander Dyce: "You propose to give specimens of the best sonnet-writers in our language.... There are two sonnets of Russell, which, in all probability, you may have noticed, 'Could, then, the babes,' and the one upon Philoctetes, the last six lines of which are first-rate. Southey's 'Sonnet to Winter' pleases me much; but, above all, among modern writers, that of Sir Egerton Brydges, upon Echo and Silence" 1833; in Letters, ed. Knight (1907) 3:31.

Raymond Dexter Havens: "To be sure, the legitimate arrangement of rimes is found in the early ones, the pauses are often disregarded, and run-over lines are common; but the poems all lack the intensity, austerity, and condensation which mark those of Brydges's master [Milton]. They deal with nature, — somewhat pensively, as a rule, — and, though neither magical nor profound, are far more pleasing than most of the quatorzains of the time" Influence of Milton (1922) 509.

Mary Katherine Woodworth: "From Thomas Warton, who gave him both inspiration for poetry and standards for literary taste, are derived many favourite images and phrases.... In his ninth sonnet, 'To Evening,' Brydges has copied the manner of Warton's 'To Mr. Gray; but in the entire body of his early verse, as well as the sonnets, he borrows freely from 'To the River Lodon.' Here is an address to the poet's sweet native stream 'Where first my Muse to lisp her notes begun,' a prototype for numerous copies either in words or idea. Here also occurs the 'fairy ground,' a phrase so pleasing to Brydges that it might safely be used as the final test in ascribing to him an anonymous poem" Literary Career of Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges (1935) 73-74.

The Sonnets first appeared as an anonymous publication in 1785; it was immediately reprinted "with additions" the same year, and again in 1795.

Oct. 1, 1782.
Ask'st, why I court the poor neglected lyre?
In hopes, thro' life 'twill chear my steady way,
Drawn by no worldly pomp, nor cares astray,
And give me passport to the heavenly choir.
The conscience, pure delight that I inspire,
And for good deeds alone pour forth the lay,
No aid, my friend, to lead me calmly gay
Thro' ignorance and envy will require.
I strike my strings: and strait my purged ear
Hears not their praise nor blame. For if my song
Should, as it breathes, illume the brow of care,
The sluggard rouse, or bear the saint along;
Shall I for self alone have labour'd here?
Oh, no! The plea shall gain my soul heav'n's tuneful throng.

July 18, 1782.
Sweet gentle angel, not that I aspire
To win thy favour, tho' ambition raise
My wishes high, I wake anew my lays;
But that thine image may adorn my lyre
With beauty, more than fancy could inspire.
As, when behind the silver clouds she strays,
The moon peeps thro', and sheds a mellow blaze,
Till woods, hills, vallies, with enchantment fire;
So does thy soul, tho' pent in mortal mould,
Break thro' the brighten'd veil; illume thy form;
In thy sweet manners all its powers unfold;
With soften'd lights each varied feature warm;
And in thine eyes such fairy radiance hold,
That on each object round they beam a magic charm.

July 24, 1782.
Ye alleys green, and high o'er-arching trees,
Where Summer flings his fragrance wild around,
And feather'd choirs a native concert sound;
Ye melancholy sighings of the breeze;
And thou, pale Moon, whose fairy beamings seize
My soul with transport ever new, art crown'd
With placid joys, more charming than are found
Mid golden roofs and lamps, and all the art to please!
Can crowded cities, and tumultuous noise,
Where Envy, Pride, and deep Resentment wake,
Produce such sober, peaceful, genuine joys?
Can man's vain toils a mimic grandeur make,
With charms like these, whose pleasure never cloys,
Whose varying sweets not Time himself can shake?

Oct. 15, 1782.
O Gentle Sleep, come, wave thine opiate wing,
And with thy dewy fingers close mine eyes!
Then shall freed Fancy from her cell arise,
And elves, and fairies dance in airy ring
Before her sight, and melting visions bring
Of virgin love, pure faith, and lonely sighs;
While on the passing gale soft music dies,
And hands unseen awake the aerial string.
Ye dreams, to me than waking bliss more dear;
Love-breathing forms, before my view display'd;
And fairy songs, that charm my ravish'd ear;
Let blackening cares my day with darkness shade,
In smiling patience every wrong I'll bear,
While ye relume me with your nightly aid!

Oct. 20, 1782.
In eddying course when leaves began to fly,
And Autumn in her lap the treasure strew,
As mid wild scenes I chanc'd the muse to woo
Thro' glens untrod, and woods that frown'd on high;
Two sleeping nymphs, with wonder mute I spy:—
And lo! she's gone. — In robe of dark-green hue
'Twas Echo from her sister Silence flew:
For quick the hunter's horn resounded to the sky.
In shade affrighted Silence melts away.
Not so her sister. Hark! For onward still
With far-heard step she takes her hasty way,
Bounding from rock to rock, and hill to hill:
Ah! mark the merry maid, in mockful play,
With thousand mimic tones the laughing forest fill!

Oct. 30, 1782.
Thou maid of gentle light, thy straw-wove vest,
And russet cincture; thy loose pale-ting'd hair;
Thy melancholy voice, and languid air,
As if shut up within that pensive breast
Some ne'er-to-be-divulged grief was prest;
Thy looks resign'd, that smiles of patience wear,
While Winter's blasts thy scatter'd tresses tear,
Thee, Autumn, with divinest charms have blest!
Let blooming Spring with gaudy hopes delight,
That dazzling Summer shall of her be born;
Let Summer blaze; and Winter's stormy train
Breathe awful music in the ear of Night;
Thee will I court, sweet dying maid forlorn,
And from thy glance will catch th' inspired strain.

ON RETURNING TO —, NOV. 5, 1782.
O my lov'd lyre, thou cheerer of my days!
How ill can I the rude misfortune bear,
That, by the damps of this Boeotian air,
Thy strings untun'd no more the song will raise!
The shout of riot, and th' indecent phrase,
The mad fool's bravo to th' assaults of care,
Ah! how will these assail my palled ear,
Now thou haft ceas'd the magic of thy lays!
O thou, the queen of this my tuneless shell,
O leave not vacant thus my drooping breast,
But touch me, heav'nly muse, with wonted fire!
So shall my days within my lonely cell
Fleet quick away, in search of wisdom blest,
Heedless of Comus, and his noisy choir.

Feb. 15, 1783.
New to the world, when all was fairy ground,
And shapes romantic swam before my sight,
Thy beauty caught my soul, and tints as bright,
And fair as Fancy's dreams, in thee I found:
In cold experience when my hopes were drown'd;
And life's dark clouds o'er-veil'd in mists of night
The forms, that wont to fill me with delight,
Thy view son dispell'd the darkness round.
Shall I forget thee, when the pallid cheek,
The sighing voice, wan look, and plaintive air,
No more the roseate hue of health bespeak?
Shall I neglect thee as no longer fair?
No, lovely maid! If in my heart I seek,
Thy beauty deeply is engraven there.

July 26, 1783.
Sweet Eve, of softest voice, and gentlest beam,
Say, since the pensive strains thou once didst hear
Of him, the Bard sublime of Arun's stream,
Will aught beside delight thy nicer ear?
Me wilt thou give to praise thy shadowy gleam;
Thy fragrant breath, and dying murmurs dear;
The mists, that o'er thee from thy vales stream,
And elfin shapes, that round thy car appear;
The music, that attends thy state; the bell
Of distant fold; the gently-warbling wind,
And watch-dog's hollow voice from cottag'd dell?
For these to purest pleasure wake the mind;
Lull each tumultuous passion to its cell;
And leave soft soothing images behind.

One morn, what time the sickle 'gan to play,
The Eastern gates of Heav'n were open laid,
When forth the rosy hours did lead a maid,
From her sweet eyes who shed a soften'd ray:
Blushing and fair she was; and from the braid
Of her gold locks she shook forth perfumes gay:
Yet languid look'd, and indolently stray'd
Awhile, to watch the harvest borne away.
But now with sinews brac'd, and aspect hale,
With buskin'd legs, and quiver cross her flung,
With hounds and horn she seeks the wood and vale,
And Echo listens to her forest song:
At eve, she flies to hear her poet's tale,
And "AUTUMN'S" name resounds his shades among.

Oct. 20, 1783.
OCTOBER, hail to thy melodious morn!
Thy gale bears music on its fragrant wings:
Hark! to the wind the bound his rapture flings,
And the glad huntsman sounds his cheerful horn:
The poor hare rues the day that she was born;
Tidings of death to her the chorus brings,
For the vale echoes and the forest rings,
And fast behind the hunter-band are borne.
Onward they come: o'er every barrier fly;
Pour down the hill, and skim along the plain;
Then up the steep again are tost on high;
Nor fear can stop, nor precipice restrain:
For courage, vigorous health, and jollity,
And manly strength by exercise they gain.

To MISS M—, OF N—.
Aug. 4, 1784.
Sweet is the gleam of morn; and sweet on high
The wandering moon; with sweets all Nature blest:
But most the Virgin's beauty strikes the breast;
The tender voice, white neck, and full black eye
Drowsily-sweet, like Sol thro' clouds; the dye,
That paints the cheek, by dark-brown locks carest;
The slender form, that grace and ease invest,
Yet shrinking from the sight with modesty;
The manners form'd to shine in courts; yet meek,
And pleas'd with all, and wishing all to please,
Enrapture: but when join'd in one they speak,
The Bard with joys unutterable seize:
Yet such he fear'd but in his dreams to seek,
Till Mary blest his gaze with living charms like these.

Aug. 14, 1784.
O Ye, the scenes, that nurs'd my childhood sweet,
Tho' many a mark to Time's rude sickle bow,
Which once I rear'd; and tho' the fervid vow
No more to yon fall'n bench shall draw my feet;
Nor the green hedge, beneath whose dark retreat
For boyish frolics oft I twin'd the bough,
Remain: Yet in each tree, whose shadowy brow
Spreads o'er the lawn, an ancient friend I greet!
Fancy has trick'd thy hill, and wood, and vale
With fairy shapes; and from each shrub, and flower;
Each sound, the woodman's stroke, the thresher's flail,
And of the kennel'd hounds the loud uproar,
My tearful smiles, past friends, or pleasures had,
Which all my infant extacies restore.

Sept 5, 1784.
Wand'ring amid deep woods, and mountains dark
Wilder'd by night, my comrades lost to guide,
Oft thro' the void I've rais'd my voice; and hark!
The rocks with twenty mimic tones replied.
Within those sacred haunts, 'tis said, abide
Fauns, Nymphs, and Satyrs, who delight to mark,
And mock each lonely sound: but ere the lark
Wakes her shrill note, to secret cells they glide.
Night-wand'ring noises, revelry, and joke
Disturb the air, 'tis said by rustics round,
Who start to hear its solemn silence broke.
And warbling strings, and plaintive pipes to sound:
And oft they hear, when Pan his reed hath woke,
Hills, vales, and woods, and glens the harmony rebound.

Aug. 16, 1784.
Ye scenes, my melancholy soul that fill,
Where Nature's voice no crowds tumultuous drown,
And, but thro' breaks of trees, the lawn that crown,
The paths of men are seen; and farther still,
Scarce peeps the city-spire o'er many an hill!
Your green retreats, lone walks, and shadows brown,
While sheep feed round beneath the branches' frown,
Shall calm my mind, and holy thoughts instill.
What tho' with passion oft my trembling frame
Each real, and each fancied wrong enflame,
Wand'ring alone I here my thoughts reclaim:
Resentment sinks, Disgust within me dies;
And Charity, and meek Forgiveness rise,
And melt my soul, and overflow mine eyes.

WRITTEN NOV. 30, 1784.
This thy last day, dark month! to me is dear;
For this first saw my infant eyes unbound.
Now two-and-twenty years have hasten'd round,
Yet from the bud no ripen'd fruits appear:
My spirits, drooping at the thought, to cheer,
By my fond friends the jovial bowl is crown'd,
While sad I sit, my eyes upon the ground,
And scarce refrain to drop the silent tear.
Yet, O beloved Muse, if in me glow
Ambition for false fame, the thirst abate!
Teach me, for fields and flocks, mankind to know
And ope my eyes to all, that's truly great:
To view the world unmask'd on me bestow,
And knaves and fools to scorn undazzled by their state!

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